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Utility commission votes to accept director's resignation, retain as consultant
 tcooper  / 

The Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to accept former Executive Director Jimmy Junkin’s resignation.

Commissioners voted to enter a closed session Wednesday morning shortly after its special called meeting began. They discussed Junkin’s resignation for roughly 30 minutes before exiting the session and voting unanimously to accept it.

“On Friday, May 3, 2019, Jimmy Junkin verbally expressed his desire to resign from the JWSC for personal reasons,” The statement read. “... The (commission) voted to accept his resignation as executive director and engage him as a consultant to assist in the leadership transition.”

It further stated that “The (commission) acknowledges and appreciates the work Mr. Junkin accomplished during his tenure and wishes him well in his future endeavors.”

The vote also authorized commission Chairman Ben Turnipseed to sign a resignation and consultation agreement with Junkin.

Junkin will receive a little less than $40,000 to work as a consultant and a severance of the amount he would have earned by Dec. 31. The base salary for the executive director position was $135,000 when he was hired in 2016.

“I’ll be doing transitional stuff for them. If they have questions about things I’ve been working on, I’ll pinch hit or give them the information they need just during the period of transition,” Junkin said Wednesday.

Turnipseed declined to comment on the agreement but thanked Junkin for his work as the director.

“We appreciate his work,” Turnipseed said.

The commission also voted to appoint Deputy Director Andrew Burroughs to serve as interim executive director.

“We’re just going to keep trying to serve the customers as best we can while they search for a director in the interim,” Burroughs said.

Commissioner Robert Duncan declined to comment on Junkin’s resignation. Commissioners Cornell Harvey and Steven Copeland could not be reached for comment by press time Wednesday.

Commissioner Donald Elliot gave his comments on Junkin’s resignation in writing after the meeting.

“The following comments are my own personal opinion,” Elliot wrote. “I regretfully voted to accept the resignation of Jimmy Junkin from his position as BGJWSC executive director.

“First: (Junkin’s) resignation was not due to any ‘for cause’ reasons stated in his contract as was the case for the firing of the previous director.”

Elliot went on to write that his resignation was the best decision for Junkin personally and that he did not leave to pursue another job. Junkin confirmed the statement later, saying he will likely seek another job, but that it was not the reason he left.

Further, Elliot praised Junkin in his comments, writing that he “fostered great community relations,” “improved the coordination of effort between county and city governments and the JWSC,” “improved customer service,” worked to restore and repair water and sewer infrastructure and update equipment and “provided an environment of transparency.”

Elliot had some concerns with transparency on the commission, which he stated in the written comments.

“In my opinion, this commission and current sitting commissioners have a problem with transparency and operating under Georgia open government laws. In my opinion, that needs to change,” Elliot wrote.

He did not specifically mention meeting broadcasts, but Wednesday’s meeting was not broadcast to the public via the Internet as nearly all utility meetings have been since December of 2017 when the utility began live streaming video of meetings to Facebook.

Administration Director Jay Sellers said the meeting was recorded but that Turnipseed advised him only to broadcast regularly-scheduled commission meetings. The new directive would exclude special-called meetings, such as the one held Tuesday, and the utility’s finance, facilities, communications, human resources, legislative, economic development and emergency preparedness committees.

Each committee is composed of three commissioners, but others can, and sometimes do, attend.

Committees generally delve into items to be discussed at full commission meetings. At a meeting earlier this year, commissioners came to the conclusion that deeper discussions at the committee level tend to lead to a more streamlined regular commission meeting.

Junkin did not attend the meeting but agreed to talk over the phone afterward. He stopped by the utility’s office later in the day to sign the resignation and consultation agreement.

The resignation wasn’t a snap decision.

“All I can say is it’s for personal reasons at this time. I’ve got personal issues I’ve got to take care of,” Junkin said. “I would say it’s something that’s been on my mind.”

He had faith the JWSC’s staff could steer the ship in the interim.

“I’m sure Andrew will do a great job, I’m not in the least worried about his taking charge. Once again, we have an outstanding staff and team at the JWSC. They’ll do fine. They’ll manage in a major way,” Junkin said. “... I also wanted to give a shout-out, I received great support from the community, and I want to thank everyone in the community for their support during my time here. I hope they’ll provide the same level of support for my staff after my departure.”

U.S. House subcommittee discusses Sea Grant, coastal resiliency
 wwolfe  / 

The National Sea Grant College Program has a significant hand in how a lot of states manage their coasts and their fisheries — Georgia’s partnership between the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant conducts all manner of activities along the coast, including out of its Brunswick Station on Bay Street.

However, the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget eliminates federal funding for the Sea Grant program. That was one of several topics of discussion Wednesday in a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife.

House Resolution 2405 reauthorizes the National Sea Grant Program Act and has bipartisan sponsorship, although none of the co-sponsors are from Southeastern states. Its lead sponsor, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., is the subcommittee chairman. Huffman asked the deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, the importance of the program to NOAA.

“The Sea Grant program is yielding great benefits for our blue economy this year,” Gallaudet said. “We have activities going on in all coastal states and the Great Lakes states through sea grant to support fishing, tourism and recreation, and safety of our fisheries. So, we think the program has performed well. We do not fund it in FY ’20, due to the prioritization of other core services at NOAA and in the administration, other activities such as national and homeland defense.”

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said Virginia is No. 1 in both clam and oyster aquaculture thanks to Sea Grant implementation through educational bodies like the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and in cooperation with the private sector.

Georgia is looking to get in on some of those oyster aquaculture dollars through a state-regulated program. Gov. Brian Kemp just recently signed the bill that passed the General Assembly that legalized oyster farming, House Bill 501. Detractors of the bill hoped Kemp would veto it, so better legislation could be passed in coming General Assembly sessions.

Gallaudet said domestic aquaculture is a priority for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“In fact, the secretary has committed to reducing the nation’s seafood deficit, and we will do that by growing a domestic aquaculture industry,” Gallaudet said. “So, we are taking great action to do that, including trying to streamline permitting, as well as advancing aquaculture research. Sea Grant has contributed to that, but NOAA has other efforts within NOAA Fisheries, within the National Ocean Service, to advance aquaculture, the science, as well as supporting business development.”

He said NOAA expects that without federal money, state funds would continue to support the Sea Grant program. Gallaudet also noted Sea Grant works as an important data collection and analysis utility for fishery management.

Other legislation discussed Wednesday, H.R. 2189 — called the Digital Coast Act — would have NOAA establish “a constituent-driven program to provide a digital information platform capable of efficiently integrating coastal data with decision-support tools, training and best practices and to support collection of priority coastal geospatial data to inform and improve local, state, regional and federal capacities to manage the coastal region.”

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., dismissed the idea behind the legislation by describing it as authorizing $4 million annually for an already-existing program that’s been operating within existing funds since 2007.

Gallaudet, though, said this legislation, and another bill — H.R. 1314, which reauthorizes the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act — are necessary.

“Both pieces of legislation support programs that are fundamental in providing data through networks to meet the nation’s needs,” Gallaudet said. “Through community outreach and partner-based services, the data these programs produce are used by decision-makers to address changing environmental conditions and drive economic growth.

“The data we collected and shared were vital to the life-saving work of NOAA and our partners during the hurricane seasons of 2017 and 2018, and have contributed to a growing, vibrant, American blue economy.”

Sarah Newkirk, director of disaster resilience for the Nature Conservancy, testified to the work she and others conducted in 2007 regarding coastal flood risk, and mitigation, like conservation investments in living shorelines.

“NOAA was our first partner in that effort, and they helped us access digital elevation data, make projections of economic losses from flooding, and project flood inundation scenarios over digital elevation maps so that we could then go out and train communities to use this information to plan for their own risks,” Newkirk said.

That work, in New York, became handy five years later in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

“I was heartened to learn that the evacuations and recovery efforts were made easier by the maps we developed in partnership with NOAA,” Newkirk said. “And on top of that, our science showed that investments in wetland protection before Sandy saved $625 million in property damage during the disaster.”

United Way announces nearly $1 million in local grants
 lhobbs  / 

After three months of hard work, it is finally payday for Mary Jenrette and two dozen of her colleagues.

They are all elated, even though none will see a thin dime of the nearly $1 million that is being paid out. Jenrette chaired the volunteer committee that collaborated on how best to disperse some $860,507 in grant money from the United Way of Coastal Georgia to deserving programs throughout Glynn and McIntosh counties.

That money will go toward such worthy endeavors as the youth services offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Georgia, the activities SOAR (Social Opportunities and Active Recreation) Golden Isles provides to developmentally disabled adults, and the work Grace House of Brunswick does to assist women struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. Others grant recipients include CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Glynn County, the local Girl Scouts of America and Safe Harbor Children’s Center in Brunswick.

A total of 39 programs focused on improving the education, health and financial stability of folks in the Glynn and McIntosh counties were selected for United Way grants. Those programs are implemented by some 23 local nonprofit groups. The money to fund these grants came from more than 2,000 contributors to the 2018-19 United Way fundraising campaign.

“When we look at these organizations, we strive to ensure that we are reaching the needs of as many people as we can in a given population within the community,” said Jenrette, who has chaired United Way’s Community Investment Committee for the past three years. “But it is not only about the number of people served, it is a question of whether we are setting people up for the success that enriches their lives individually and benefits the community as a whole.”

One such program is Coastal Soccer Outreach, a sports-oriented program that promotes education and self-sufficiency among boys and girls within often underserved sectors of our community. The program has reached hundreds of local youngsters over the years, funneling 100 percent of the participants in its traveling soccer teams toward high school graduation, college, the military and the work force.

Shawn Williams, Executive Director of Coastal Outreach Soccer, described the United Way grant as invaluable to his group’s mission. He said the Community Investment Committee takes very seriously its responsibility to best serve the area with United Way’s funds. Knowing this only reaffirms Williams’ faith in his group’s ability to make a difference.

“It is tremendous for us to be able to receive funding from an organization like United Way,” Williams said. “Also, with the number of individuals and corporations that entrust United Way with those funds, that is like the community looking at us and saying, This is a program that is worthy of the investment and accountability that has been bestowed upon it with this grant.”

It is no easy task ensuring that United Way’s money is spent in the best possible way to serve the most people in Glynn and McIntosh counties, Jenrette said. She and the 24 other volunteers from throughout the local United Way’s service area dedicated more than 1,000 volunteer hours to the effort. Jenrette presently serves as vice chairwoman of the local United Way’s board of directors and will serve as its chair in the coming year.

“We have a responsibility to our community to spend this money wisely,” Jenrette said. “The 24 people who sit on this committee take the role of allocation of these funds very seriously. We have a responsibility to make sure we are accomplishing the things we need to accomplish through United Way.”

Atwood to speak at College of Coastal Georgia graduation
 lmcdonald  / 

College of Coastal Georgia announced Wednesday that Alex Atwood, the former chief judge of the Magistrate Court of Glynn County, will speak Saturday at the college’s spring commencement.

Atwood has a long and distinguished career in law, business, military and government. He previously served three terms in the Georgia House of Representatives. In that role, he held numerous leadership and committee roles. While serving as a member of the appropriations committee for higher education, Atwood helped secure construction funding for College of Coastal Georgia.

“Commissioner Atwood touches the lives of so many people in the community and across the state,” said Michelle Johnston, president of the college, in a statement. “He exemplifies one of the many principles we continuously emphasize to students at the college — to get involved and change their communities for the better. His background as a leader and dedication to serving others will inspire our graduating students as they begin the next phase of their lives.”

Atwood served previously as the chief of legal training for the Department of Homeland Security at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. He also sent 34 years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He retired at the rank of full Colonel.

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Atwood in March to be the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Administrative Services. In the role, Atwood oversees the numerous state operations and functions of the department, including service as the chief contracting officer for the state and the Human Resources Administration.

The commencement ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

Camden spaceport named a Top 50 project
 gjackson  / 

A global infrastructure strategy firm has named Spaceport Camden as among the top 50 strategic infrastructure projects in the nation.

The list by CG/LA Infrastructure, identifies the sites and ranks them based on the potential to create jobs and generate economic growth.

Spaceport Camden will be recognized at the company’s upcoming Blueprint 2025 Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. The event features high-level government officials including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Federal Aviation Administration director Daniel Elwell.

Camden County Administrator Steve Howard said the designation shows the potential the proposed spaceport can have on the local economy.

“Georgia is already the No. 1 state to do business and now Spaceport Camden is a top 50 infrastructure project in the United States,” Howard said. “This should send a strong message to the rapidly growing commercial space industry that Camden County, Ga. is the best place in America to launch a rocket and a space company. Georgia is primed to become the epicenter of commercial space flight in the United States.”

Norman Anderson, head of CG/LA, is considered a recognized expert on infrastructure deals in the United States and other nations. In 2017, Anderson helped the Trump administration prioritize more than $1 trillion in infrastructure project plans.

“From the Space Force to the National Space Council to a renewed commitment to returning to the moon, reclaiming America’s leadership in space is a strategic priority of the Trump Administration,” Anderson said. “To meet future launch demand and keep the United States competitive, we need to fast track projects like Spaceport Camden.”

But not everyone was impressed with the spaceport designation. Steve Weinkle, a longtime critic of the spaceport project, called the announcement a “world-class publicity stunt.”

Weinkle said the list “appears to be prepared by a paid advocacy consultant for troubled and controversial projects.”

The estimated infrastructure value of $150 million for the spaceport is “a truly incredible work of fiction that appears to have been created from thin air,” he said.

The status of the spaceport project is still being determined by FAA officials. The environmental impact statement has been on hold for a year and the application for a spaceport license is still under review.